In the last Subtle Body Training class, Khandro-la asked us to be like tigers as we progress into our week. Fierce and courageous, "Where does the tiger live in you," she asked. Before ending, the well-known Shakyamuni Buddha tiger story was cited, but there is another one that I thought of first -- that of the Wisdom Dakini Yeshe Tsogyal, and I want to share her tigress story because Yeshe Tsogyal is an emanation of Vajrayogini and the form body of [pre] Machig Labdron. Yeshe Tsogyal was my origin Buddha before I even heard the story of Shakyamuni, which is others' Buddha origin story.
The Dakinis found me first.
Another book I read before finding Dakini's Whisper was 'The Life and Visions of Yeshe Tsogyal: The Autobiography of the Great Wisdom Queen', which holds a different perspective on Yeshe Tsogyal's life than that in the book 'Sky Dancer'. Once again bounding through the pages of underlines and tabs -- after I brushed the dust off the cover, the words hit me differently than the first time I read them. In 'Chapter Two: The Princess's Voyages to the Land of Oddiyana', we find Yeshe Tsogyal navigating her way through the great Chimpu charnel ground where she solidifies what defines her: utilizing the means of kindness and nonreactivity when working with every obstacle.
Sounds like the underpinnings of Cho to me ...
We meet Yeshe Tsogyal in the middle of her twelve year stay when she joins a white-colored womxn who, appearing at daybreak, knocks on Yeshe Tsogyal's door of the Secret Wisdom Cave with her crystal staff. This womxn tells Yeshe Tsogyal that Yeshe Tsogyal doesn't have authentic faith and to find authentic faith, the two must journey together into this womxn's white land. The white-colored womxn takes Yeshe Tsogyal by the hand and shows her places where humans are killing themselves as offerings, where hungry ghosts scrambled for forms of liberation, and finally to a place that feels like a very familiar home [to me] and where the tigress comes to meet us -- it's called The Land of Dakinis and Furies, where the chiefs among them eat flesh and drink blood. Yeshe Tsogyal hadn't noticed yet that at this palace gate when she asked to enter, the two large Dakinis carrying corpses denied her entry because she was unwilling to bravely do what was asked of her (which was to carry one hundred corpses over the threshold) ... but when the white-colored womxn asked to enter, a blue Dakini with red eyes appears and opens the door for both her and Yeshe Tsogyal to enter freely (without carrying any corpses).
If the reader knows what they've stepped into with Yeshe Tsogyal and the white-colored womxn, one is awed to be the third party now standing in front of the great bliss union of emptiness and what is spontaneously born from that union. It didn't escape me that this gated place is the center of the open mandala inside the tetrahedron shaped palace of Vajrayogini's mysterious origin, and those flesh eaters are the retinue of Dakinis with Troma Nakmo at the gate of the central channel. It's said in some Vajrayogini commentaries that She is white in the Sambhogakaya and red in the Nirmanakaya. And so, it should come as no surprise that as we three ascend to the upper level of the palace while walking past victory banners made of human skins with supporting beams made of hewed skulls, that the Dakinis at the top of the palace greet the white-colored womxn as [their] Chief named Lives in Peace and who is Vajrayogini Herself! At this point, Holy Vajrayogini sends Yeshe Tsogyal [and us] back to her own place saying, "There is a bounty [there] of amazing spiritual attainment left to gain." And I'll level with you here -- if Vajrayogini said that to me, I'd have reacted with the same panic and tantrum as Yeshe Tsogyal did -- "I can't go there and manage on my own! Won't you come with me?" To which Lives in Peace replies, "I don't have time to go with you. I have to stay here and protect the lives of these adepts who uphold their tantric bonds. Leave here bravely; go and don't doubt yourself." (p. 136)
Once outside the palace gate, Yeshe Tsogyal walks through a red land, where the water is the color of blood and bones cover every inch, fires blaze from the mountain peaks and where suns and moons rain from the sky. I again imagine myself as Yeshe Tsogyal dejected and not even concerned with the deluge of suns and moons around her. When suddenly, she finds herself at another gate that's again guarded by two similar large Dakinis as before. But this time, they ask Yeshe Tsogyal to go out and kill a tigress and her cubs bringing them back as the means to enter this city. If there was ever a time to push back, this was the point of the story to do it and that's exactly what Yeshe Tsogyal did! In fact, she offered her own flesh to these gatekeeper Dakinis instead of that of a tigress and her cubs! .. but no, that's not gonna work this time. Turning away from the gates, Yeshe Tsogyal knew she had failed at her attempt at spiritual attainment during this journey and yet, she was still there in the charnel ground wandering around and not back in her cave .. so that means there's still a chance! Figuring out the solution after searching countless days and nights, Yeshe Tsogyal thought, "If I venture into the jungle, perhaps I can find a dead tigress and her cubs." (p. 138)
In the jungle, Yeshe Tsogyal comes upon a mother tigress and her eighteen cubs. The cubs were small and hungry because there was no milk left to give from their mother, who was skin and bones herself. All were close to death. Yeshe Tsogyal felt unbearable compassion and made an aspiration prayer for their survival as she cut off pieces of her body and fed them to the dying tigress and her cubs. Near death herself now, Yeshe Tsogyal didn't care if she lived or died and only wanted to ensure the survival of this tigress and her cubs. The tigress moved by unbearable compassion as well, nursed Yeshe Tsogyal back from the brink of death and helped return Yeshe Tsogyal back to her former whole state. Upon being completely healed, Yeshe Tsogyal promises the tigress she won't die and in return, the tigress shows Yeshe Tsogyal the corpse of a dead tigress found further into the jungle. Yeshe Tsogyal cuts off the head of the dead tigress' corpse and throwing it onto her back, goes back to the city gates with bravery.
Okay, so there's the tigress story for SBT homework, but there's more to this ...
Once inside the city gates, Yeshe Tsogyal is lead by a red womxn to a feast table where the guests had human bodies with animal heads all eating together merrily. Completely mentally and emotionally messed up by this mish-mash of insanity, Yeshe Tsogyal is told she is perceiving things impurely because -- in fact -- all the guests were dakinis and heroes, and that the reason Yeshe Tsogyal is perceiving things impurely is because her channels and energies are not aligned. To show Yeshe Tsogyal how to do that, the red womxn tells Yeshe Tsogyal her past life story as Sole Goddess Fire Light followed by instructions on how to meditate on circulating energies within the central channel. Completely awed in following how to align her channels, Yeshe Tsogyal found the energies were cleared with the pure perception arising thus introducing clear light, and Yeshe Tsogyal could then bravely continue on toward the eastern side of the palace. There in the east, Yeshe Tsogyal found the twenty-one vase empowerments; in the south, she found the eleven longevity empowerments; in the west, she found the supreme illusion empowerment for the all-encompassing matrix of dakinis; and in the north, she found the major empowerment of awareness holders -- the empowerment of the fourfold joy of great bliss. Also in the north, the red womxn who was still Yeshe Tsogyal's companion also received the major empowerment of the awareness holders.
Crossing over into the center of the palace, both Yeshe Tsogyal and the red womxn witnessed the Union of Great Bliss swirling and dancing around Vajrayogini who was gazing upwards holding a skullcup of blood and a curved knife. The crystal-like dancing swirl of this awareness holder conferred on Yeshe Tsogyal and the red womxn the unsurpassable four empowerments of the awareness holders. The red womxn then said to Yeshe Tsogyal, "It has been twelve months [in your part] of the charnel ground and it is time for you to return. There, you will find many more great spiritual awakenings." And with that, Yeshe Tsogyal was handed a skullcup wrapped in green silk -- it would never run dry of food or drink, and it would take Yeshe Tsogyal safely back to her retreat cave. Once back there, Yeshe Tsogyal continued to bravely with triumphant nondual compassion meet Her obstacles head on for the sake of all sentient beings.
What have we learned from this female Buddha story of Yeshe Tsogyal and the Tigress in the Great Charnel Ground of Samye Chimpu?
The tigress and Yeshe Tsogyal had a cyclic bond in that, had Yeshe Tsogyal died, the tigress would have been devastated with grief -- just as Yeshe Tsogyal would have been had the tigress died. Both females nourished the cubs with blood and milk and likewise, we pray to Vajrayogini to nourish us with Her blessings. Yeshe Tsogyal, like us, after continuous trial and error that lead to more and more suffering, finally grasped the spiritual attainment concept she was meant to within Chimpa charnel ground -- which was utilizing the means of kindness and nonreactivity when working with every obstacle. There is no delineation between guru, hungry ghosts, animals, or cannibal Dakinis -- we are all the same and of the same whole. We are shown that even a Buddha was once where we find ourselves and through Her example, we have the bravery and confidence to stay on this path because it simply makes sense -- let alone works! I believe this story was the manifested phenomena of Yeshe Tsogyal and even if it wasn't, what a beautiful meditative guru yoga experience she had within her Secret Wisdom Cave. Yeshe Tsogyal met Vajrayogini and was taken into Her care, she was blessed by the Five Dakinis, found another level of spiritual attainment to humbly teach us, bravely traced back the source of her suffering and of her bliss, created the practice of Cho which would be expanded in a future lifetime as Machig Labdron, learned what the subtle body was and how it is the pathway to liberation, and ultimately, Yeshe Tsogyal with the Wisdom Mind of Vajrayogini lovingly reaches back out to us to say, "Take my hand. I've done this before and it sucks, but it can be overcome. Allow me to show you ..."
Yeshe Tsogyal's Past-Lifetime Prayer as Sole Goddess Fire Light:
"I undertake this pure offering
through blessings of the truth
of the all-embracing expanse,
beyond center and bounds,
and through the immeasurable nondual compassion of infinite buddhas.